“…Featuring” Norah Jones
Doe-eyed muse Norah Jones reminds us once more of the mellow flow of her sweet melodies through her latest album, “…Featuring.” Released on Nov. 12, the album is a compilation of her past collaborations with a myriad of artists across the spectrum of genre. With this album, the Texas native amazes with her versatility and soulful vocals with undertones of jazzy elements.
Jones projects a folk-like summer feeling through her unique vocals. Soothing yet quirky, she has reached a level of maturity whose unblemished voice heightens the lyrics. One glance at the collection is a testament to her skills and the unique elements she brings to the table.
“Love Me” by The Little Willies, a rock/country group, commences with an unorthodox feel which transforms into a bluesy persona that is lazy and slick. Interestingly, Jones’ vocals almost effortlessly overpower the joint harmony against the prominently featured background of the piano.
“Virginia Moon” is nothing special, though it brings a delightful beat. If anything, the lyrics seem to reach out to the audience with eloquent words like “in the morning when we’re through and tomorrow rescues you, I will say good night.”
On the other hand, both Jones and the classic New Orleans band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, present “Ruler of Heart” in a perfect blend of sassy potency. While the duo’s version of the Irma Thomas original isn’t that bad, the original possesses a rawness that cannot be imitated.
Unfortunately, the collaborations go downhill with “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from old-timer, country music revolutionist, Willie Nelson. Nelson’s brevity of range clashes horrendously with Jones’ usual self. In addition, “Bull Rider,” a Johnny Cash tribute, and one of the few songs by Jones herself and another featured artist, drowns in its bland nature.
On a positive note, Jones truly shines in “Life Is Better” from hip hop rapper Q-Tip. Despite his throaty, monotonous buzz of rhymes and his slew of references to old-school and current artists, such as The Furious Five, Masterdon, Junebug, Run DMC, Dougie, 2Pac and Ludacris, Jones’s voice nicely contrasts with the strong downbeats.
Rapper Talib Kweli’s “Soon the New Day” emits a similar urban feel with ethereal-yet-edgy notes intertwined with sensational chords of the electric guitar and candid words.
A listener could envision himself at a bar in the 1930s with the iconic, rickety voice of Ray Charles. His song “Here We Go Again” was part of his final album, “Genius Loves Company,” which was awarded Record of the Year and Album of the Year in the 2004 Grammys. Despite the profound amount of praise the album received, this particular track seemed ordinary.
Still, the execution is spot-on and the classic timeless style with Jones supporting Billy Preston’s organ solo showcases both the old and new generation. Furthermore, the song itself won Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
Big-haired and well-endowed Dolly Parton lends her vocals for “Creepin’ In.” They produce a beautiful harmony against the lively strings of the banjo and bass with Parton’s soprano part melding well with Jones’ richer tones.
“Court and Spark” from Herbie Hancock, a pianist and composer, provides a funky mood that is slightly reminiscent of gospel music. Jones excels in this song, which, coincidentally, stems from Hancock’s Album of the Year record.
The live recording of “Blue Bayou” between Jones and M. Ward prompts visions of the southern backcountry after hearing the distinctive, swamp beat. Their good chemistry is evident not only here but also in the song, “Dear John,” which appears to reflect back on bitter memories on a deeper, more powerful level.
Although her last four albums have been met with confusion over their categorization, Jones demonstrated her critical acclaim and capability when capturing five Grammys all in one night in 2003 with her “Come Away With Me” album.
Reaching critical acclaim at such a young age, Jones can only hope to move on and find further reward. Her 2004 hit single “Sunrise” displayed the ongoing theme of nature, which was a combination of folk, nostalgia and whimsical romanticism.
Her latest album, “The Fall,” did poorly in sales the first week but has since risen to platinum status. Jones’ most recent single, “Chasing Pirates,” draws upon an eclectic story of pursuing Jack Sparrow-types with a likening to a bad prom band in the background. If anything, it is not the most unique and catchy song compared to her previous successes.
Part of the new crop of musicians within the country and jazz scene, Jones is nothing like Taylor Swift or Billie Holiday. Instead, she can be characterized as a quiet soul who never fails to deliver. With just a nudge back to her roots but splashed with a creative direction, Jones could be heading back into the limelight, prompting audiences to once more fall in love.
Rating: 3 out of 5